Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Krakow in the snow

After the first evening, as in every home exchange, of orienting myself to someone else's way of organising their home (so many keys! no teapot! have I, the invading stranger, put the cat off its food?*) and the neighbourhood (evidently the would-be trendy/arty bit of Krakow), it snowed overnight.

Even under skies that stayed leaden-grey all day, there was a certain extra charm to seeing real snow weighing down Christmas trees and street decorations alike.

As the morning wore on, though, the mixture of slush and occasional rain made this a day for indoor sightseeing. In the Czartorysky Museum, one is introduced to a dizzying succession of Polish monarchs and marshals of the 16th-18th centuries and their various portraits, acquisitions and knick-knacks (the glory days of richly-decorated armour and sumptuous carpets and tents acquired as booty from defeating the Ottomans soon give way to more domestic goods), and then a collection of paintings, which likewise rather tails off after the mediaeval, Renaissance and the Rembrandt.

I had lunch in a cellar which also offered a fortune-teller (no-one seemed to need her services, and she didn't seem bothered - no doubt it was no surprise to her).

In the Collegium Maius, the mediaeval base and current museum and ceremonial heart of the Jagiellonian University, not everything is mediaeval: it's the closest I shall ever come to an Oscar, and Olympic gold medal or a Nobel prize (this must be one of the few places where you can see them all in one cabinet, as they have been presented to the university by former students). The main impression, however, is of the solemnity with which great institutions like this present their history (all the more understandable here, given what's happened to Poland over the centuries); much is familiar to anyone who's seen an Oxford or Cambridge college chapel or library, but there are some really impressive examples of decorative art and craft:

*This is a rhetorical question. There is a cat. There is food. What - by one letter - is the most economical response?

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